How to Deal With an Unexpected Job Loss

Man sitting on sofa holding mug looking sad
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There are times when losing one's job doesn't come as a big surprise. There are signs that a layoff is imminent, and while it may rattle your nerves, the benefit of being able to prepare for it is invaluable. More often, a job loss is unexpected. It seems to come out of nowhere and can knock you off your feet.

If you just lost your job, there are probably a lot of thoughts going through your mind. You may be angry at your boss, or whoever else you think could be responsible for your situation. Sadness is not uncommon either. Most of all, you are probably anxious about what will happen next—will you get a job and how will you pay the bills until that happens. In the immediate aftermath of getting your walking papers, do the following:

  • Acknowledge that you are in a very stressful situation and your feelings are entirely a normal reaction to it. It is not uncommon to be upset or angry. While it's okay to vent at your friends and family, do not act out toward your boss or coworkers.
  • Take a short break to evaluate your situation. You don't have to start looking for a new job the day after you get fired but do not wallow in self-pity for very long.
  • Try to figure out what happened so you can learn from this experience. It's easy to blame others, but it is essential to own your own mistakes. If you don't, it won't be possible to make the necessary changes to keep it from happening again.

After giving yourself a few days to grieve after an unexpected job loss, get going on creating a plan for your future. There's a lot to think about including financial survival until you get a new job, health insurance, and figuring out a new career if you don't want to stay in your present one. Here's a simple strategy for moving forward:

  1. The first thing to do when you lose your job is to find out if you are eligible for government unemployment benefits. Your financial survival depends on having a regular income. If you live in the U.S., individual states determine eligibility. See "How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits."
  2. Determine how long your financial resources will last. If possible, don't deplete your savings or increase your debt. Devise a budget that allows you to cut down on your expenses as much as you can.
  3. If your former employer provided your health insurance as part of your benefits package, you are going to have to find out how to pay for it on your own. An illness can wipe out one's savings and put an individual into serious debt very quickly. You should be able to continue your group benefits through COBRA (The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). Contact your former employer's employee benefits office or human resources department to learn more.
  4. Losing your job provides the perfect opportunity to reevaluate your career choice and determine whether a change is in order. One thing to consider is whether you enjoyed what you were doing. Another is the health of your field. Did you lose your job because of layoffs? Whether you think you would be happier or have more stability in another occupation, make sure to do your homework first. There are a variety of tools to help with career exploration, including several that provide labor market information.
  5. If you decide to leave your current occupation but don't know what career to choose, a self-assessment will allow you to learn about your interests, work-related values, personality type, and aptitudes. Then find suitable occupations based on this information. You may need professional help to do this.
  6. During your employment gap, take the time to spruce up your skills. Find out which ones are most valuable to employers in your field and sign up for classes or find free online tutorials. Look for low-cost educational programs offered by local organizations. The U.S. Department of Labor offers adult training programs to assist recently laid-off workers. Contact your local American Job Center.
  7. Unless you've decided to take time off from work to retrain for a new career, your primary objective is to find a new job as soon as possible. Create a competitive resume that highlights the skills that are most in demand in your field and is free of even minor errors. Let people in your professional network know what has happened and don't be ashamed to ask for job leads. Review your job interviewing skills and make sure you have appropriate attire available.

While an unexpected job loss can be an overwhelming life-changing event, it is possible to recover quickly and successfully.